Concrete bases are in place for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant's new fire water system tanks.
Concrete bases are in place for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant's new fire water system tanks.

CARLSBAD, N.M. – Millions of dollars in new and old infrastructure needs protecting at the EM Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).

That’s the goal of WIPP’s $24-million fire protection infrastructure project, which is required to meet DOE and other federal nuclear safety requirements. When the work is complete, a 10,000-foot loop and its connectors that carry water to fight fires will replace an aging system installed more than 30 years ago when the waste repository was being developed.

WIPP is also adding a massive new ventilation system, known as the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System, as well as a new utility shaft that reaches 2,275 feet underground, providing increased air as part of the ventilation system. The fire protection loop will encompass all of it.

“This is an important project; parts of it are safety significant for nuclear safety,” said Steve Smith, capital infrastructure project manager with Nuclear Waste Partnership, the WIPP management and operations contractor. “The system we currently have is old, and it’s directly buried into the ground. This will give us a system we can rely on.”

The fire protection infrastructure project, slated for completion in 2022, is being done in phases. The first two phases include large underground fire mains, a new pumping system with a pumphouse, and large water tanks. The third phase will connect buildings to the loop. The fourth phase includes installation of electrical panels, smoke and heat detectors, and pull boxes in more than two dozen buildings. The site’s central monitoring room, which will accept all system inputs, is being remodeled with state-of-the-art computers and monitors.

The loop design includes numerous crossover points, allowing water to flow where it’s needed if part of the system is blocked or disabled.

Backup systems are central to the project. The pumphouse will have an alternate electric pump, which will in turn be backed up by diesel power. The system can also be hooked up to the site fire department’s pumper truck to maintain pressure.

The pumphouse will be constructed of reinforced concrete, designed to withstand a severe tornado.

A pair of 200,000-gallon tanks are being fabricated and painted this month for installation in August. They will sit atop concrete bases on the northeast corner of the site. Those tanks will replace a single 180,000-gallon tank located near the site’s guard and security building. That tank and an adjacent tank will be used for potable water once the new system comes online.

The fire protection loop will extend across the WIPP access road to the area of the new utility shaft, as well as the new ventilation system.

The new fire loop will provide an increased volume of water through new fire hydrants, and the supply line from the hydrant to the pumper will be replaced with an expanded line, allowing for an increase in volume of 66 percent.

“The WIPP Fire Department is very excited about the new fire loop,” WIPP Fire Chief Nick Perrone said. “This is a game changer for the WIPP Fire Department and how we can and will handle any fire-type events.”